Your yard is a source of great relaxation and enjoyment for your whole family. While you may not regard your yard as a dangerous place, children are far more vulnerable than adults. For their safety, as well as your own peace of mind, make sure that you provide them with a place to play that is as hazard-free as possible. To do this, you may have to temporarily adjust your thinking and consider the worst-case scenarios. Once you’ve allowed for every eventuality, you can relax and enjoy your yard with your kids. Well…at least as relaxed as parents can be!
Clean and Secure the Grounds
If it can be eaten, they will eat it. If it can be climbed on, they will climb it. If it can be inserted in their nose, they will enthusiastically attempt it. Inspect the grounds to identify and remove any foreign objects such as stones, sticks, debris, or litter that could get them into trouble.
When you landscape play areas, avoid using sharp gravel and river rock. It may be low-maintenance, but it is harsh on little hands and knees—remember, small children get around on all fours much of the time.
Inspect sprinkler heads. Ensure they are flush with the ground and will not cause tripping or stubbed toes.
Identify and remove any poisonous plants. Many common ornamental plants such as jasmine, azaleas, acorns from oaks, and hyacinth are poisonous if ingested, and kids have been known to eat just about anything.
If you have pets, accompany them when they go out, and pick up droppings right away. If possible, try to train your dog to go in only one area of the yard. Better yet, have a locked dog run just for them where they can relieve themselves away from the wider yard.
Replace any outdoor electrical outlets with GFI circuits, and keep them covered with childproof inserts.
To keep your backyard secure, a six-foot fence will help ensure privacy. Keep your gates locked; store keys in safe places, and keep duplicates hidden out of sight.
Walk your fence line to make sure that there are no gaps where adventurous little ones might be tempted to wriggle to freedom.
With wooden fencing, look out for splintering wood that can poke little fingers. If your fence is made of treated wood, keep the treated areas covered in paint, as the chemicals can be toxic.
If you have chain-link fencing, make sure that you find and fix any sharp wire ends that could scratch the unwary. Consider threading fence webbing through the links to increase privacy.
Keep your play-set in good shape, or get rid of it. Beware of rust or sagging on play-sets as they can portend breakage. If any safety feature fails, either fix it right away, or discard the set. Cover the ground in play areas with mulch or bark to soften the inevitable falls. Position the set in a shady area to minimize sun exposure.
Pools and Spas
Hard fact time: Children die in pools and spas every year. Drownings are often silent, and take less than five minutes. Don’t underestimate the dangers. Keep your pool area securely fenced and locked. Cover your pool or spa when it is not in use. Never leave your child unattended near a pool or spa, not even for a moment.
If you have an inflatable wading pool, empty it out as soon as it is no longer in use. Store it upside down and well out of your children’s reach.
Teach your kids to swim right away. Not just a good precaution, it’s great exercise, and can be an ongoing source of fun and recreation for them for the rest of their lives.
Learn CPR in the event that pool safety precautions fail. Many community centers offer free classes for both parents and kids.
Despite your efforts to rid your yard of potential dangers, some may happen naturally.
Mushrooms can pop up overnight; some types of wild mushrooms can be deadly. Check for them after heavy rains, and eliminate excessive moisture from your yard to curtail their propagation.
Bees can swarm in the spring while looking for a new home. Hornets and wasps don’t need an invitation to drop in, either. Keep an eye out for nests or heavy populations of insects around your house. If your child has an allergy to bee stings, be sure your first aid kit contains an Epi-Pen—and know how to use it.
Don’t forget the sunscreen. Train your kids early to seek protection from the sun by generously applying sunscreens with an SPF appropriate for children, and encouraging the use of protective clothing.
Most importantly, be present. Always supervise your children in the yard. While you may have done a great job of removing hazards, children can surprise you with their inventiveness, and uncover dangers where you least expected them.
Yard Maintenance Safety
Many common yard supplies are dangerously toxic. Storage sheds can hold gasoline, insecticides, fertilizers, and caustic pool chemicals. Keep any and all hazardous substances safely stowed away in locked cabinets, and inaccessible to children.
Many lawn treatments are harmful when they are initially applied. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and only allow children access to the yard when the treatments have been safely absorbed into the soil. Consider doing without the various pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that too often harm people, wildlife, and water quality.
Your kids want to be with you, but keep them inside while you’re performing yard work, even if you have to hire a sitter. Never allow children access to the yard while you are working with a mower, edger, hedge-trimmer, or power tools of any kind.
Educate Your Family
All of these safety precautions are taught most effectively when they are done consistently. Train yourself, and get your kids in the habit now. As early as you can, teach your children the reasons behind your precautions, so they can share responsibility for them. Teaching the reasons behind caution empowers kids to protect themselves.
Fortune favors the well prepared, but problems can still arise anywhere. Keep emergency numbers on hand, and have a well-stocked emergency kit nearby at all times. Make sure everybody knows where to find it. Even if you never need to use it, the fact that it is there will give you a feeling of security.
Safe and Secure
Once you’ve done the work, you can reap the reward. Take off your inspector’s hat, scoop up the kids, and linger a few hours in your yard. Settle into your favorite lawn chair, watch your kids play, and be gloriously unproductive. You’ve earned it.
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