Creating a Safe (and Cool!) Outside Play Area in Child Care CentersJun 13, 2017
Children need to have plenty of outdoor playtime every day, but what if it’s too hot to go outside? How do we create a safe (and cool!) outdoor environment for our students?
The benefits of outdoor play throughout the day are enormous for children! Not only does playing outside provide growth benefits such as imaginative play, motor skills, and social development, it also provides children with essentials like Vitamin D. For those of us in Texas, however, but it can also be hard to get in enough outdoor playtime without running the risk of overheating, sunburn and dehydration. So, what’s the balance? How do we make sure that our students are getting in enough sun time while protecting them from harm?
- Make the area cooler! Fill your outdoor time with cooling-off activities. These activities can be as simple as freezing water and using it as a science experiment while your students play with it. Mud play, small water sprinklers, and painting with ice are other ways to keep your students cool and happy. Try freezing water in large containers like pitchers or plastic milk cartons. Put big chunks of ice on the grass that children can touch as they play.
- Keep a shaded area outdoors: If your outdoor play space does not have the added benefit of shade trees, make sure that you have a play area covered with shade cover. Be sure all the students come out of the direct sun as they play, providing them with small spray bottles of water to cool off in the shade.
- Clothing and sun protection: Make sure that during the hot summer days, your students have access to lightweight, weather-appropriate clothing. Do not let children go outside in warm weather with jackets or other articles of heavy clothing to avoid their bodies overheating very quickly. If it is sunny outside, ask parents (or provide) hats and sunscreen for your students to protect their skin. When you have ‘water day’ on the playground and you’ll be outdoors for extended times, ask parents to dress students in UV-protected shirts if they have them.
- Stay Hydrated! The most important thing to remember during the hottest months is to keep your students hydrated. When we get hot, we sweat to keep our body temperature regulated and need to make sure we are replacing the water lost during this process. This is especially important with small children who can get so caught up in having fun, they don’t remember to drink the water their bodies need. Always keep cool water nearby and make sure your students are drinking an appropriate amount to keep them hydrated! If you have infants in your care under the age of six months, it is not safe to give them water – even in hot temperatures. Talk with parents about providing you with extra breastmilk or formula to make up for lost liquids due to heat. And make sure you’re drinking lots of water yourself!
- Know when to go inside: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you limit children’s playtime outside to 15-minute increments when temperatures hit over 90 F. To make sure you are still giving your students the benefits of outdoor play, schedule your time outside in the morning and evening when the sun is not too hot.
Following these tips can help you and your students remain hydrated and protected from the strong Texas sun in the coming months. It’s important to know the signs of dehydration and heatstroke in small children and when to seek medical care. You can find that information available here.
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