Whittier Elementary students understand the importance of playground safety. The days of hot metal slides, swing-set back flips and monkey-bar chicken fights are over.
Yearly, 2,300 Utah children suffer an injury on public school fields, a statistic that raised concern with one group of fifth-graders at Whittier Elementary School.
Whittier student Justin Crowley said he and the rest of the class felt that many activities were being taken away from them. For example, the entire Salt Lake City School District chose to remove all swings from elementary schools because of injury risk and cost of maintenance.
Instead of simply accepting the adult administrators’ reasoning, the class did its own research to determine if playgrounds were indeed as dangerous as the students had heard. The statistics were enough to leave the entire class convinced.
“Our school’s recess rules are exactly what they should be,” said Darrell Chang, a Whittier student. “The rules are in place to keep us out of harm’s way.”
The students learned that the majority of injuries came on the playground area, with a significant portion — 26 percent — on monkey bars. Running was the second most injurious activity at 21 percent. The research helped the children understand why activities such as playing tag, climbing on top of the monkey bars and chicken fights are banned throughout the district.
Jenny Johnson, a liaison to the Utah Department of Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program, emphasized that the goal is to allow children as many avenues for play and exercise as possible. While it was found that swings were more negative than positive, other equipment contributed to the overall health of Salt Lake City students.
“We want kids to be active and to have fun and enjoy these things,” Johnson said. “We are in no way saying to take out playgrounds or other apparatuses. That’s not our call. We want to provide insight to make recess safer without limiting enjoyment.”
Johnson said the two most important factors to consider at recess or even in backyards are proper supervision and better surface materials. She used the example of backyard swing sets often placed directly on the grass. The program recommends about 9 to 12 inches of material. Rubber mulch is best, though even gravel is less harmful than a direct fall on the lawn.
“You don’t often think what material is considered safe or realize what isn’t,” Johnson said. “That’s why it’s important that the schools work closely with the local health department and go through inspections and find areas they can improve on.”
What’s OK, what’s not
Activities that are not permitted at recess at many Salt Lake City schools include dodgeball, throwing snowballs and football.
The top five injuries reported included possible fracture/broken bone, cut/laceration, bump/bruise/contusion, sprain/strain/tear, and possible concussion.
Only 30 percent of Whittier Elementary School students felt the recess rules should be changed.