Covid and Playgrounds – Are They Safe?

Parks and play equipment Brisbane-wide is still thankfully open to the public. However, many parents are understandably worrying about just how safe going to a playground really is, given the current Covid-19 crisis. Are playgrounds fertile ground for viruses and infections in general, and is there a way for children and adults to play safely while still enjoying their favourite parks and recreational centres? When it comes to playgrounds, social distancing is always a challenge and surfaces are everywhere, so let’s look at what can be done to make them as safe as possible.

Be Prepared

The science is still unclear as to whether children are likely to contract the novel coronavirus virus from playgrounds. While Covid-19 has been shown to survive for up to 72 hours on stainless steel and plastic, studies are produced under laboratory conditions, meaning they don’t perfectly reflect our real-world environment. While it is known that people can catch Covid-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes, this is “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA). Large gatherings and intra-family contamination appear to be the main culprits, although this doesn’t totally remove the risk when it comes to playgrounds either. As a result, if you are going to visit a playground then it pays to be prepared. Prioritise playgrounds with bathroom facilities for hand washing and bring along plenty of hand sanitiser. Carry antibacterial wipes to wipe down equipment wherever possible before and after use and bring extra masks in case someone forgets theirs, or you think your child should wear one to exit the play area in the case of overcrowding. Consider also the time of day you will visit, insofar as crowds. Early morning may be quieter, but the best times of day will depend on what’s happening in your local area. While it can be difficult with small children, try to ensure proper social distancing at all times, even if there is only one other family in the playground.

Head into the Great Outdoors

In recent years, playground designers have returned to the great outdoors for either inspiration or the setting of their play parks. There is no question that children benefit from connecting with nature, and the kind of free-wheeling play that occurs in great open natural spaces is proven to have a calming effect. It’s also no secret that kids love to get their hands dirty, play in the mud, build cubbies, climb, swim, explore, and generally burn off energy. However, according to Nature Play WA kids who play regularly in nature are sick less often. Natural materials such as dirt, sand, water, leaves, and sticks can help too, ‘stimulate children’s immune system as well as their imagination’. However, in light of Covid-19, there is an even greater incentive to head into the great outdoors. The general consensus is that open-air spaces are some of the safest, fuelling a shift in some parts of the world to outdoor classrooms. Fresh air replenished by the wind, large enough spaces for proper social distancing, and the relative distance from crowds make heading into nature an appealing alternative to our previously densely packed living and learning arrangements. However, when it comes to small children, who benefit from the learning experiences provided by structured playgrounds, a balance can be struck. In Brisbane, there are many open-air children’s parks, with John Goss Reserve being one of the leafiest. There are also many parks designed to imitate the experience and benefits of climbing trees, such as the Nature Playpark in Funderwood Hollow, set in a large open green space. Alternatively, if you would prefer to put playgrounds on hold for now and head into nature instead, then there is plenty of inspiration to be drawn from spending time among trees. Try playing the tree hug game, or building a ground-level “cubby” from fallen branches, or even go “treasure hunting” for the brightest fallen leaves and flowers.

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