How to Protect Playgrounds During the Winter
Playgrounds are a beloved part of any school or park. Kids love to climb, slide and swing, letting their imaginations invent new ideas for playtime. Since playground equipment is exposed to all kinds of weather. it is essential to protect it during the winter to keep it in good shape. With adequate winter playground safety precautions, kids and equipment alike can stay safe all year round.
As those who live in colder climates know, winter weather, like snow, ice and harsh temperatures can batter playground equipment and cause it to wear faster than usual. We’ve gathered a few great strategies for taking the best care of your playground equipment, so kids can enjoy it for years to come.
Tips for Winter Playground Maintenance
Standards for safe play at playgrounds are crucial all year long, yet wintertime brings unique circumstances. There are several ways you can maintain your playground equipment’s quality throughout the year and promote kids’ safety while they enjoy it. Check out these suggestions for how to protect playgrounds from winter weather.
1. Inspect Equipment for Wear
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends regularly inspecting playgrounds for safety, even in warmer months. Normal wear and tear can lead to damaged parts that provide less protection than they once did. The parks and recreation department or school supervisor in charge of a playground should eliminate risk as much as possible by fixing protruding hardware, sharp edges and removing tripping hazards. They can also take note of parts that need replacing.
Supervisors can perform regular inspections of the equipment’s condition, especially before and after peak seasonal use. Parents or teachers may also choose to check equipment safety immediately before letting kids out to play. Thoroughly investigating equipment is a great way to make sure kids can enjoy a safe playground all year.
The National Recreation and Park Association also provides playground safety certification called the Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) program. CPSIs identify the potential hazards on a playground and manage them. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2018 survey, CPSIs perform playground maintenance less frequently during winter months. This schedule is typical because playgrounds see decreased traffic in colder weather. Playground supervisors should still encourage routine inspections, especially if kids use the equipment throughout the year.
2. Protect Wooden Playground Equipment
Modern playground equipment has evolved considerably from the equipment used decades ago. Plastics and painted metals recently edged out galvanized steel equipment, creating safer spaces for kids to enjoy.
While plastic and metal tend to be more popular and durable, manufacturers still use wood in many playground structures. Wood makes a good material for playground equipment in many ways, although harsh weather can damage it faster than other materials. When water enters the wood grain, it can freeze and cause the wood to shrink and expand. The result of this freezing can be warped, cracked wood that is less structurally sound.
Wood tends to become damaged by low temperatures, so it needs proper care to promote durability and safety. A practical method for protecting playgrounds in the winter is to coat any wooden equipment with a nontoxic, waterproof sealant or preservative. These coatings can slow moisture transfer from the atmosphere into the wood and help the equipment maintain its finish over time. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations if you decide to treat playground equipment.
3. Clear Away Snow
In many regions, colder temperatures bring heavy precipitation like snow and ice. Even if your region experiences little snowfall, these elements can stress playground equipment and decrease its durability. Freezing precipitation can also make it difficult to ensure kids’ safety during play. Often, snow will pile up in drifts along fences, doors and walls, making it challenging to see where to step safely. Icicles form along tree branches and under rooflines and can be dangerous if they fall to the ground.
Before allowing kids out to play, always be sure to clear snow from slides, stairways, platforms, handles and all other playground elements. Clearing snow off these surfaces can help give kids better visibility, prevent falls and keep metal surfaces from getting too slippery. Be sure to check on surfaces and under snowdrifts for slick patches that kids may not notice.
Many businesses use chemical deicers to keep ice from forming on sidewalks and concrete surfaces. Chemical deicers blend several chemicals to create a brine with a lower freezing point than water and dissolve ice upon contact. Check the recommendations on the packaging and the playground manufacturer’s recommendations before using chemicals, and remove the slush before it has the chance to refreeze. Manual deicing is another option that involves sweeping snow and ice away using a shovel or snow blower.
4. Remove Playground Components
Maintaining playgrounds in the winter may involve removing some components until spring returns. Some playground structures are best for warmer weather. and snow and ice may severely damage them. Sometimes it is best to cover or remove pieces of equipment like canopies and swings to keep them in good condition throughout the winter.
Canopies, swings and other shade structures can build up with the snow and ice that collect during a cold snap. When the weight becomes too heavy, a canopy could weaken or break, sending the snow to the ground below. Snow buildup poses a risk for kids playing under the awning and shortens the life span of your equipment. To prevent this risk, disassemble canopy parts and swings and store them until kids need them again.
Consider turning off water elements, like splash pads or other water play areas, during the colder months to keep kids dry and prevent the water from freezing and damaging components in low temperatures.
5. Install Nonslip Mats
Deicers can help keep kids from slipping on ice on concrete surfaces outside. However, it is easy for kids to track snow and ice into the building after playing. These high-traffic areas are another cause for concern, as they can quickly become puddles of melting snow that kids may trip or fall on.
Nonslip doormats located just inside the doorways kids use to enter and exit the playground can help with these issues. These mats soak up water dripping off shoes and gloves and can keep a majority of road salt and deicing pellets off the interior floors. Once kids come inside from an afternoon on the playground, nonslip mats can help keep them safe from slipping on tracked-in snow.
Playground Ground Surfacing in the Winter
One of the most important considerations for protecting playgrounds in the winter is choosing suitable ground surfacing during playground construction. Budget considerations typically determine the materials and structures a school or parks and recreation department will use, and often the playground surfacing is given less thought. However, the substances used for ground surfacing play a considerable role in playground safety in the winter.
There are two primary types of playground surfaces. Loose-fill surfacing uses looser materials like engineered wood fiber and rubber mulch. Unitary surfaces are tiles or poured sections of surfacing, usually made of rubber. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) 2018 survey on playground surfacing found that most CPSI participants preferred loose-fill surfacing because it is generally less expensive to repair and replace than unitary surfacing. These participants also favored engineered wood fiber over rubber mulch for its cost-effectiveness.
For wintertime, however, synthetic surfaces like poured in place rubber and rubber tiles provide greater safety. The CPSC study noted that loose-fill surfacing has some downsides that make it less appealing to parents and caregivers. For example, kids can displace rubber mulch and engineered wood fiber when they walk, leading to more frequent falls. Parents also found that kids liked to throw engineered wood fiber, getting it in their clothes and shoes. Kids also sometimes chew on loose-fill like wood and rubber chips, which could present a choking hazard.
Wood chips can be more unsafe during the winter. Just as with wooden structures, wood chips are porous surfaces that collect water. If the standing water in wood chip surfaces freezes, the frozen wood chips can become dangerous if kids fall or hit their heads. Preventing freezing in your ground surface is an integral part of winter playground safety. If your playground uses wood chips, be sure to drain them often to avoid icing and mold development.
In contrast, unitary rubber surfaces are not as prone to freezing and thawing. Ice may cause cracks in concrete, while poured-in-place rubber and rubber tiles are generally safe from freezing effects — as long as they remain even. Although unitary rubber surfacing is more costly to maintain than nonrubber unitary surfacing, it also has a longer lifespan and provides a safer surface if kids fall. According to the CPSC, poured rubber surfacing can last up to 10 years, though it may wear faster depending on the weather and use.
A playground’s surface plays a significant role in safety, especially for younger kids. Even grassy areas can cause issues if the ground beneath is frozen. During construction, choose a ground surface that can withstand the elements and keep kids safe throughout the year. Whatever your playground’s surfacing, follow these tips for the best safety results:
- Smooth uneven surfaces to prevent standing water and ice.
- Replace displaced loose-fill surfacing and cracked unitary surfacing to maximize your surface’s impact attenuation.
- Check playground surfaces routinely to catch risks before kids go outside.
Should Kids Use the Playground During the Winter?
If a parks and recreation department or school uses the proper safety precautions and clears away snow and ice, kids can continue using playground equipment all year. However, if playground equipment is unavailable for use during the winter months, it is still vital for kids to spend time playing outdoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children ages six through 17 engage in physical activity for 60 minutes per day. For younger children, that number is higher.
Kids need the same amount of activity even when there is snow on the ground. Experts have identified several benefits to playing outdoors during the winter, including increased creativity and focus. Kids also need Vitamin D, a mineral produced in the body’s skin when exposed to sunlight. According to the National Institutes of Health, Vitamin D protects against several diseases and promotes bone health. Playing outside on sunny winter days can prevent deficiency of this vitamin.
What kinds of outdoor winter activities can kids enjoy? Some activities like skiing and ice skating require a specific location or equipment. Winter sports can give kids a change of environment and encourage them to try new things. A field trip or family outing to play ice hockey, go tubing or enjoy a day of sledding can be a fun way to spend time outside in the winter.
There are also plenty of winter playground games that require little or no equipment. Try games like dodgeball with snowballs or building a classic snowman when you need an alternative to slides and jungle gyms. Kids can have a winter wonderland scavenger hunt around the playground and find items like pine cones and berries. Even a simple walk or hike can help kids get moving in the cold.
Protecting Kids on the Playground During the Winter
Snow and winter weather creates a new landscape that kids find thrilling. A significant part of keeping kids safe while they play is maintaining playground equipment during cold weather. There are several other ways playground directors and school supervisors can make sure kids stay warm and protected, so they can keep playing all year long.
1. Consider Weather Conditions
While it is generally harmless to play outside even in chilly temperatures, some weather conditions are too bitter for kids to enjoy safely. Before allowing kids out on the playground, check the temperature, precipitation and windchill. With snow actively falling and even light winds, base temperatures can feel far colder.
According to the National Weather Service, the risk of frostbite increases when the temperature reaches weather.gov/safety/cold-wind-chill-chart”>negative five degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, all it takes is five-mile-per-hour winds to create a wind chill of negative 16 degrees, leading to frostbite on exposed skin in about 30 minutes. WebMD recommends saying no to outdoor play if the wind chill factor is more than 20 degrees below zero. Whatever the temperature, it’s vital for adults to monitor weather conditions to keep kids safe.
2. Remove Ice and Snow
When snow covers the ground, it can be easier for kids to slip and fall. A thick layer of snow can be challenging to walk in and may pose a tripping hazard if it hides icy patches beneath. Preventing icy conditions can help avoid these injuries. To keep snow from building up, regularly shovel pathways and sidewalks. You can also use nontoxic deicers or salt to melt ice on concrete and prevent it from reforming.
Encourage gentle play since most playground surfaces, like wood fibers and grass, can retain water and become icy in the right conditions. You should also check ground surfaces before taking kids outside and be aware of items kids may trip over, like tree roots and uneven ground tiles. Rubberized surfaces are less likely to get icy, so those surfaces are less hurtful in case of a fall.
Cold metal like on playground structures can also cause frostbite on little hands, so clear all playground equipment of snow. Inspect equipment closely for signs of corrosion and breakage.
3. Ensure Kids Dress Warmly
After ensuring that weather and playground conditions are safe, the next step is to bundle kids up during play. Adequate clothing is crucial for keeping hands and feet warm while outdoors. Make sure kids wrap up in these warm, dry layers:
- Thermal underwear
- Warm socks and mittens
- Layered shirts
- Snow pants and coat
- Waterproof boots
- Insulated hat
It is also good to change clothing when wet, like when snow finds its way into socks or down a shirt. Keep extremities covered, especially the head, hands and feet. Protecting these body parts can help trap heat against the body.
4. Be Aware of Loose Clothing
When winter arrives, parents unpack scarves, hoodies and pompom hats with long strings. While they are good at keeping kids warm, these clothing items have loose parts that can snag on the jungle gym bars or the top of a slide. If scarves catch on a piece of equipment or protruding piece of hardware, kids can become trapped.
Be careful of winter clothing and accessories with extra fringe or strings, like mittens and hats. Keep scarves tied snugly, and tie hoodie drawstrings loosely under the chin. It is also helpful to tighten all bolts, handles and other hardware to keep clothing from snagging.
5. Look Out for Signs of Illness
Lower temperatures don’t cause the common cold, despite the sickness’ name. Cold and flu season kicks off in the fall and winter because of numerous factors, such as people spending more time indoors and getting less Vitamin D. However, it is a good idea to keep kids inside if they have cold or flu symptoms, so they can rest and heal.
Cold temperatures can cause other kinds of illnesses, like frostbite and hypothermia. Exposed skin can contract frostbite in cold temperatures and wind, which is why layered clothing is vital for keeping kids warm. Signs of superficial frostbite include light gray skin, blisters and localized pain on the fingers, toes or face. If you suspect a child has frostbite, bring them inside and apply warmth to the affected area with warm water or a heating pad. If their skin is numb, seek medical attention.
Hypothermia is a more serious condition caused by dangerously low body temperatures. Symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness, bright red skin and a temperature of below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If you suspect hypothermia, get medical attention and keep the child warm and dry.
Preventing frostbite and hypothermia requires paying careful attention to kids’ clothing and behavior. Young kids are at greater risk for these cold-weather dangers because they don’t yet know how to tell when it’s too cold to be outside. They may also be more likely to say they feel fine because they want to keep playing. If the weather drops too low or you notice any signs of illness, keep kids indoors and help them stay warm.
6. Remember to Pack for the Cold
When it is safe to play outside, you may want to pack some valuable items such as these to prepare you for whatever happens:
- Sunscreen: Just because it’s the middle of January doesn’t mean UV rays can’t still cause skin damage. Bring sunscreen to keep faces protected from the winter sun.
- Hot water: Bringing a thermos full of hot water for instant hot cocoa or soup can be a satisfying way to warm kids up after playing.
- Warm blankets: Cozy layers can be helpful if kids have gotten too cold and need instant warmth. Towels are also handy for drying off wet feet.
- Emergency kit: If you’ve taken some kids to a park or playground, you may not have access to emergency supplies like a first aid kit. Pack things like hand warmers and extra socks to make sure everyone is dry.
Contact a Miracle® Recreation Representative Today
Winter is an excellent time for kids to play outside if you’re prepared for the colder weather. Whether they’re experiencing cabin fever from being stuck indoors or just like making snow angels, kids love to enjoy the winter wonderland. Taking the right precautions can ensure kids are playing safely all year long.
Miracle Recreation has playground solutions to help children explore, discover and grow throughout the year. We design innovative playground equipment for all ages with thrill and wonder in mind, encouraging kids to engage the world through play.
Miracle Recreation offers pre-designed play structures, or you can work with our design team to create custom solutions for a totally unique playground for your school or park. Contact a Miracle Recreation representative to find playground solutions today!