Tips for creating safe spaces for children to play outside, especially near farms

Spring has sprung, and while farmers are itching to get back into the fields, children may be excited to get outside and play, so the Progressive Agriculture Foundation recommends creating a safe space. 

Jana Davidson is an education content specialist with the progressive agriculture foundation. She noted most people have safety standards when visiting a playground or local park, but they may not have the same attention to detail for play places at home or near farms. 

“It can be really hazardous to our children,” she said. “This is a good time to reflect on that and start to increase our safety in our own backyards.”

The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agriculture Health and Safety based in Marshfield, Wis. created guidelines for play areas. The center defines a safe play area as carefully and thoroughly planned in a designated location with limited exposure to hazards like traffic, agricultural production, and environmental concerns. They gave the following details for an ideal area:

  • Within sight and sound of a responsible adult, to allow effective supervision.
  • Developmentally appropriate for the child’s age.
  • Away from environmental, structural, and machine-related hazards. This can include loud noise, poor air quality, lack of shade.
  • Designated by boundaries or physical barriers such as a fence.
  • Supplied with protective ground surfacing to minimize fall-related injuries.
  • Full of play opportunities with activities allow children to experience physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development.
  • Well-maintained with grass mowed, snow removed and examined on a regular basis.

Davidson said rather than buying large equipment intending for a child to grow into it, it is important to start with materials that are appropriate for each age and add on as that child grows. 

Among the leading causes of serious play-related injuries include falls from play equipment onto unprotected ground surfacing, strangulation by clothing that becomes entangled on vertical protrusions and projections, head entrapment from entry into an opening, and injuries resulting from equipment tip-over,” according to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agriculture Health and Safety. 

In Davidson’s blog on the Progressive Agriculture Foundation’s website, she said every three days in the United States, a child dies due to an agriculture-related incident, and every day, 33 children are injured due to an agriculture-related incident. According to 2014 data, more than 23.8 million youth visited farms across the United States.

“During these visits while fostering a child’s passion for agriculture and curiosity for farm practices, large equipment, and animals, it is vital to keep safety at the forefront,” Davidson said. “Farms are busy workplaces, and while children who live on the farm may know this, visitors to the farm might not. We need to continuously educate that the farm is not a play area and should treat the farm with the same respect and care as any other workplace.”

A key part of creating a safe space is to model safe behavior and send correct messages. For example, she said replacing sand in a sandbox with corn can give a young child a false sense of security in grain. That child may have trouble understanding the difference between grain in a corn box and grain in a gravity flow wagon where it can act like quicksand. Other hazards from that situation could include choking, allergies, crowding, as well as pests and germs since the grain is a food source. She also said farm-themed playsets that encourage climbing and playing on equipment that resembles the likeness of tractors, silos, and harvesters, can send unsafe messages to children.  

“Children deserve a safe place to play where they can create lasting, fond memories,” Davidson said. “Playgrounds and play areas do not become safer on their own. It takes care from community members and people like you.”

The National Program for Playground Safety has designated April 26-30, 2021 as National Playground Safety Week.

Starting April 1, the Progressive Agriculture Foundation returned to modified, in-person safety days to return to a sense of normalcy while still respecting COVID-19 protocols. Progressive Agriculture Safety Days is recognized as the largest rural safety and health education program for children in North America. More information can be found online. Anyone who wishes to sponsor a child so to attend a safety day in 2021 can text the word “SAFETYDAY” to 44321.