In the summer, children's play moves outdoors. With proper equipment and supervision, children can beat the summer boredom blues and have endless hours of fun in their own back yards.
Pat Belby, manager of Research and Child Development for Little Tikes, a toy manufacturer, offers some tips on creating your child's private playground:SAFETY FIRST: Your first priority should be safety. When you shop for outdoor toys and equipment, study them closely. Stay away from sharp edges, protrusions and pinch points - areas in which children can poke their fingers in and get caught. Avoid exposed bolts and chain links large enough to catch a child's finger. Look for well-made, quality toys.
PROPER SUPERVISION: Parents need to introduce their child to new equipment. The first few times a child plays with new things, parents should watch and offer guidance, set rules and parameters.
CHOOSE CAREFULLY: When purchasing backyard toys, select playthings that stimulate your child's mind and body. Look for variety in shapes, activities and color. Make sure designs provide sequential learning, by offering a succession of activities. Do the toys encourage riding, climbing, crawling, jumping, pushing, pulling, turning, sliding and swinging activities?
THE RIGHT FIT: Judge whether the toy is the right scale for your child. Don't ignore age recommendations on the packaging. Use them as guidelines along with your personal knowledge of your child's capabilities.
CUSHION THE FALL: No matter how careful you are, a fall is always a possibility. Make sure that your child's playing surface provides for safe landing spots. Wood chips, loose sand or pea gravel are good choices. Blacktop, concrete and dirt are not.
MAINTAIN INVESTMENT: Check toys and equipment regularly to make sure everything is in perfect working order. Broken equipment must be repaired immediately or removed. Don't hesitate to call the manufacturer for replacement parts or if a toy has malfunctioned.
SWINGS: Hang your swing at a safe height for your child. Don't adjust it to a height that's comfortable for you to push - that's often too high for the child. It's best if preschoolers' feet touch the ground when the swing is at rest, while a toddler's swing should be hung 18-24 inches from the ground. Push your child from the front, against the child's knees. This promotes face-to-face contact, encourages pumping - and you're less likely to push the child off the swing.
SLIDES: Slides provide children with a great sense of accomplishment. While starting down the slide, the child needs to hold on with both hands. Take time to explain that only one person is allowed on any part of the slide at a time. Your child also needs to look to make sure no one is at the bottom of the slide before he or she pushes off. After sliding, the child must learn to move quickly away from the bottom of the slide to avoid a possible collision.
CLIMBERS: Climbers offer a range of activities and allow for group or singular play. Climbers should always be dry, and children should wear flat, rubber-soled shoes to prevent slipping.