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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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Playground Rules


Playground rules can be printed and posted on signs and enforced by parents and other authority figures to keep children safe and to avoid lawsuits. These sets of rules should be uniform for individual playgrounds, but can vary from playground to playground. The importance of uniformity in rules relates heavily to adult influence on playground activities. When adults are overheard commenting on how children aside from their own should and should not be allowed to play, it creates an additional layer of stress. Parents may feel pressured to encourage their children to play in a certain way at a playground based on verbal comments and looks from other parents who prefer certain rules to be upheld, lest their own child be injured or influenced to play less safely due to breaking a rule. It is okay for children to see themselves and others playing differently from each other.

Below is a list of rules (see Table 2) that may be seen on posted signs or audibly heard relating to how children “should” play in playground environments. A rationale statement follows each rule and highlights how breaking these rules can benefit play skill development.

Table 2: Breaking Playground Rules

Ladders

Rule: "Do not clumb without using both hands."

  • Rationale statement: A child may be well-balanced, competent, and ready to climb in different ways, if they prefer and are able to do so.  Without seeing a child's climbing skills in action, it cannot be assumed that the child is unsafe climbing wtihout two hands.

Rule: "Do not start at the opposite ends of monkey bars.  Everyone start at the same end and moeve in the same direction.  Do not stand on top of ladder.  Stay well behind the person in front of you."

  • Rationale statement: Telling childen how to work through a problem they have not yet encountered will take away the experience of problem-solving.
Seesaws/Teeter Totters

Rule: "Do not lean back on seesaws/teeter totters.  Sit straight.  Hold on with both hands. Do not stand or run on the board or plank.  Sit on the seats only."

  • Rationale statement: Once children achieve independence riding on a seesaw or teeter totter in the traditional manner, they will naturally find ways of making the activity more exciting by making small adaptations and gradually increasing the degree of difficulty and sense of reward. Therefore, it can be incredibly restrictive to make a rule that children must ride in a specific manner.
Slides

Rule:  “Do not climb up the sliding surface of slides. Use the ladder. Hold on with both hands. Take one step at a time. Do not slide down improperly. Slide feet first, sitting up, and one at a time.”

  • Rationale statement:  Climbing slides is a brilliant way for children to have a powerful burst of tactile and proprioceptive (“heavy work”) sensory input. Hard-working muscles engaged in the gripping, pulling, climbing action, as well as the deep pressure input going through the open palms, feet, wrist, shoulder, ankle, knee, and hip joints in the ‘bear walk’ position (hands and feet), send strong messages to the brain about body position.
Swings

Rule:  “Only one person per swing at a time. Always sit in the center of the swing; do not stand or kneel. Hold the chains tightly with both hands. Stop the swing completely before getting off. No jumping off the swings, twisting the ropes/chains of the swing, or sideways swinging. Do not push other children on the swings. If you cannot start swinging on your own, ask an adult to push you softly to get you started.”

  • Rationale statement:  Children do not like swinging for hours on end in exactly the same manner.
    All the different ways to swing are wonderful movement experiences to support a maturing sensory system. Jumping off the swing is a great way to practice the motor planning skills of prediction and timing.
Fire Poles

Rule:  “Hold on with both hands and wrap your legs around the pole when you slide down. Slide down carefully and make sure you land on two feet with your knees slightly bent.”

  • Rationale statement:  Children will typically learn how to slide down (or shimmy up, or swing around) fire poles by watching other children (or adults) as visual examples.

Rule: "No bare feet/Wear proper footwear."

  • Rationale statement:  Sensory seekers will love feeling the variety of textures at the playground through their feet (e.g., wood, metal, leaves, sand, dirt, mud, grass, puddles). Feeling a variety of textures through the feet will support the development of tactile discrimination and sensory processing efficiency in general. This relates to the development of good body awareness and knowledge of how one’s body interacts with the world/environment. Always be aware of and immediately remove glass, needles, or sharp objects that might result in injury.

Children should be encouraged to create their own play rules while respecting others’ ideas. The key is to use common sense and ensure appropriate adult supervision at all times. Breaking playground rules can lead to deeper, more meaningful play, a broader play skill set, and many and varied developmental gains and improvements.


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