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4 Easy-to-Avoid Playground Hazards

Warmer weather means it's time for the swings, slides, and sandboxes. But before you let them loose on the jungle gym, check for these easy-to-avoid playground hazards:

1. Hot surfaces

Metal slides, steps, or decks in direct sunlight can reach temperatures high enough to cause serious burns (even if it's not a hot day), warns Donna Thompson, Ph.D., executive director of the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS). Always feel the metal first to make sure it's cool enough for your toddler, and teach bigger preschoolers to test the temperature themselves by touching it lightly with one finger.

2. Hard landings

Cement, asphalt, dirt, and even grass should never be used under playground equipment. Instead, the surface below should be covered with shredded rubber, wood chips, sand, pea gravel, or rubber tiles -- and the material should extend at least six feet around the play structure in all directions.

3. Unsafe equipment

Remember the sore bum you used to get when a friend would jump off the seesaw at the bottom and you'd slam down to the concrete? That's a no-no today. Look instead for seesaws with giant springs in the center that prevent abrupt falls. The NPPS also doesn't recommend spiraling, twisty slides for kids under 5. If yours can't resist a souped-up slide, stay close by as she goes down or slide on it with her -- if she'll let you.

4. Bike helmets

If you biked or scootered to the playground, make sure everyone removes their helmets before they take off, says Thompson. Helmets can snag on equipment and the straps can -- yikes! -- asphyxiate kids. Avoid clothing with drawstrings as well (or remove the strings).

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