Children love to play in the garden, when the British weather gives them the option, and safety is of paramount importance. But how can you go about removing real risks while not getting in the way of their sense of fun and allowing them to explore nature and find out their own limits?
We’ve covered larger play toys like climbing frames, swings and the like in another article. Here we’ll talk about smaller garden toys, ball games and other children’s games.
Lawn Darts Horror
One garden game that holds bad memories for my family is lawn darts. An incident in 1970 led to a child across the road having a nasty cut just to the side of one eye, but of course it could have been much worse. Researching for this article I fully expected lawn darts to have disappeared off the face of the earth but no, they are still on sale. The fact that their sale is banned to the USA and Canada speaks volumes.
Of course the problem was not with lawn darts themselves, but that they were being used by children who were far too young to be playing with them and there was little or no adult supervision. These are the crucial things that need to be taken into account, but the adult supervision is hard to keep up when lots of people are around, at family garden parties and barbecues for example. And it’s particularly hard when the drink is flowing too.
Toys that involve throwing need to be monitored to keep children safe in the garden. Make sure that the children using them are old enough to be able to control what they are playing with. So a sponge ball and large plastic rackets are safe for toddlers, although they need to make sure they understand not to hit each other, because even the plastic racquets can hurt.
Something that’s heavier and smaller, like a rounders or baseball bat, would be too heavy for a toddler to control. Apart from the safety angle it would be very frustrating for them as they would be unable to hit anything with it. When children get older and can hit small balls confidently with a bat like that then they really need to get out of the garden into a local park. This isn’t so much because of the safety risk to any child but more because other people and property begin to get damaged, either from the ball or the bat itself.
Assess the Whole Risk
Swingball is a great case in point. Children whack the ball as hard as they can because it’s tethered and can’t fly off and hit anyone (unless it breaks, of course). But smaller children don’t understand that they need to keep out of the arc of the ball and can easily be hurt by it.
The genteel game of croquet is another case in point. The game is generally calm and peaceful but those mallets can really hurt if a child is standing too close to someone taking a big swing. Equally the wooden balls can hurt if dropped on a toe, or if a small child is mown down by an enthusiastically thwacked one.
Sensible Precautions Mean Safe Play
Without giving guidelines for every single possible garden game around – the best advice is to set out rules for the children and make sure they are enforced. Look at the games that are being played and assess whether each child is old enough and understands well enough to be able to be playing with that particular game or toy.
The lawn dart example we opened with was caused by a child too young to be playing with them, who had been told by an adult that she was too young. But she grabbed one and threw it anyway. It all happened in an instant. So be vigilant and firm but let children play too.