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National Child Safety Expert, Alison Rhodes, “The Safety Mom,” is one of the country's leading child safety authorities, providing tips and advice to parents on a broad range of issues facing all children - newborns to teens.

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Time to Go Out and Play
by Alison Rhodes

The minute the first hint of spring is in the air my kids are outside as much as possible.

Whether it's playing in the sandbox or swinging on the swings, they like nothing better than to be in the backyard getting messy and screaming at the top of their lungs. As their mom, I try to make sure the area is as safe as possible so that I can sit back and enjoy their fun.

Whether your children are in your backyard or on the neighborhood playground, their toys and equipment need to be inspected on a yearly basis. All of the bolts should be re-tightened and check that none have become too rusty or are protruding. There should be a twelve inch bed of wood chips, mulch or sand on the surface which should extend at least six feet in every direction. If you have a rope tire swing, make sure that the rope has not become frayed. Check that there are no roots or other obstructions around the play area that children could trip over. If you have a sandbox, replace the sand from the year before and check the edges of the box for splinters. Protect the sandbox year round with a cover to prevent animals from getting in.

If you are thinking of purchasing a trampoline or already have one, consider this - according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), hospital emergency room-treated trampoline injuries almost tripled in the last decade - from an estimated 37,500 in 1991 to almost 100,000 in 1999. Nearly two-thirds of trampoline injury victims were children 6 to 14 years of age and about 15% of trampoline injuries involved young children under 6 years old. Falls off the trampoline often resulted in crippling injury and/or death including paralysis from spinal cord injury. Somersaults and coming into contact with other persons on the trampoline's surface likewise resulted in many serious and crippling injuries as well as death. Pediatricians advise against allowing preschoolers to use trampolines at all.

Make sure children understand the boundaries of where they are allowed to play. Keep this area well away from the driveway and preferably out of view from the road. Setting up bright orange cones or some other visual cue will help children recognize the safe area. Even if you have established safe play zone areas, it's too easy for children to forget and run into the driveway after a ball or other toy. They'll also be playing in the driveway if you have a basketball hoop set up or when they're on their riding toys. Consider purchasing a retractable gate to fit across your driveway and signs warning drivers that children are at play. This area should also be free of gardening tools, outdoor electrical cords, lawn mowers and any other hazardous item. If children have access to the garage where toys might be kept be sure there are no pesticides or chemicals stored within reach. Barbeque grills with sharp tools should also be kept out of this safe play zone.

No matter how safe the area is, preschoolers should never be left unattended outside to play so grab some lemonade and take some time to enjoy swinging on the swing as well.

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