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Creating safe play areas, indoors and outdoors

By MARGARET MUTHEE
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Whether indoors or outdoors, children love to play and socialise in open environments, so it is necessary to create safe spaces for them to do this.

“A child’s early years are a very important part of their development. Children tend to embrace things at an early age so if your child is exposed to an environment where they have a space to play or arrange toys, it enhances their organisational skills, which is a part of their formation,” says Joel Mwangi Muchine, who specialises in creating safe indoor spaces for children with disabilities.

“Often, parents, teachers or caregivers are not there to supervise kids when they’re playing, so it is important to create these safe spaces,” he adds.

“Keeping the environment as safe as possible is a consideration that designers, home owners and caregivers should think about when setting up a play areas for children. Health, safety and learning opportunities are factors you should consider when making choices for the play area in the house or the backyard,” says Mark Muchemi, a Nyeri-based interior designer.

Indoor play areas are a good idea for kids, Mr Muchemi says.

“Sometimes parents restrict their children from playing outside, say because of bad weather. But when they are indoors, they will want to play everywhere.  Zoning their play area works well so that even when there is no one to supervise them, the kids can have a safe space to play,” he says.

Mr Muchine,who owns Wood and Plunks, an office and interior decoration company in Nyeri, points out that there is a gap in the society today, such that, unlike in the past, children spend more of their time  away from their parents. For this reason, he notes, it is important to create a safe space for children indoors.

“In the past children had playgrounds but  today, due to an increase in interest in real estate, children lack play spaces outside,” he notes.

“Parents should embrace the idea of creating indoor play areas for children. If you do not have enough space outside, you can create a play pen in the house where a child can learn organisation at an early age.

Whether it is for your own home or for commercial purposes, here are some considerations for your indoor play area.

INDOOR PLAY AREAS

As Mr Muchemi explains, the space matters: “The play area needs sufficient space that can accommodate the facilities  that keep children busy and entertained. A floor area of about nine metres square is just about right, but the bigger the space, the better, because when the space is small, the children will get tired and want to venture outdoors,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mr Muchine, says the playthings also matter. “A small child does not require too much space but they need a lot of items. Kids repeat things as long as it relates with the eyes and mind. If you lots of space, let the child have a small study table, trolley, clean rug/mat and maybe even a wall made out of sponge, to create a barrier that can be easily collapsed.”

According to Mr Muchemi, kids will always run around, no matter the environment. To avoid accidents, getting the right kind of flooring is essential.

“Avoid slippery floors which might lead to falls. The carpets that you use should be smooth to ensure that no one is hurt during play. The colours should be bright but the carpets should also be easy to clean,” he says. “The floor should not be rough or slippery. One should use friction- resistant floors because the kids will jump up and down. Thick spongy carpets can also be used to prevent accidents,”

Mr Mwangi Muchine concurs, adding, “Play areas should be cleaned often.”

And with regard to making children with disabilities comfortable, he says, “You can also have bean bags made of polyester fibre. They are very soft and, therefore, good for children with mobility issues, since  they can just lie or roll on them,” he says.

 Mr Muchemi says that, since kids love to have fun and might be tempted to climb over furniture, plastic seats and tables are ideal, especially for kids below 10.

“Furniture in play zones should not be high because children will always climb onto things. If you use high furniture, you should expect accidents. Furniture with sharp or metal edges should not be use. Instead, use furniture with curved edges.” he adds.

Regarding furniture, Mr Muchine emphasizes that they have something familiar. 

“At an early age a child will first relate with cartoons, letters, or colours. Most bright children relate with colour. When you are creating that space, have a broad spectrum of things. Let furniture be plastic or wooden, depending what you can afford. Then have writings on it that they can relate to,” he says.

Children with disabilities might also need special furniture, Mr Muchine notes. “Such kids need stagnant pieces of furniture they can relate with. For example, a child without legs can sit on a rocking horse and move with minimal movement. It is important to allow these children to appreciate nature from an early age,” he says. “Today’s society has been pushed too much towards appreciating the artificial, even with regard to toys,” he argues, adding that we should appreciate nature.

Mr Muchemi and Mr Muchine say play areas should have sufficient pathways to enable children to move around freely.  “Children love to play with their toys, so they need space to be able to move as they wish,” explains Mr. Muchemi.

STORING TOYS

It is important to have a place for children to store their toys after play.

“You can put rails on the walls for the kids to store their toys. These rails can be placed high on the walls where the children cannot reach them on their own,” Mr Muchemi says.

Indoor play areas should be well lit to avoid dark areas and to enable children to reach their toys easily, says Mr Muchemi. “Children fear dark places and will feel more comfortable when there is sufficient lighting. Unless there are using toys that require electricity, the sockets should be off most of the time.  Also, the sockets should be high, where the kids cannot reach them,” warns Mr. Muchemi.

SUPERVISION

Even if you take precaution, there is always the risk of accidents, hence the need for supervision. “While you might not be there the whole time, a CCTV could serve as an alternative. But it should not replace supervision which, in case of an accident, would be ideal,” cautions Mr Muchemi.

“Supervision is important. Children are fond of swallowing things, chewing on toys. Someone should watch over them as fights might also arise. There is also high risk of disease contamination in indoor play areas than outdoor areas. With the wrong choice of play material, there is increased risk of serious accidents,” he notes.

“It is important for parents to consider getting an expert to help them set up a safe play areas for their kids. Institutions such as schools and hospitals should also consider this because every parent wants their kids play in a safe environment,” Mr Muchemi notes.

OUTDOOR PLAY AREAS

Outdoor play is a big part of healthy development.  Mr  Johnstone Muthiga Kariuki, an expert in  low-cost building, one should consider outdoor play areas as they give children an opportunity to take risks and explore new environments. “There is more space to run around, jump as well as enjoy other physically stimulating activities,” he says.

Here are a few safety measures to consider for outdoor play space.

“It is important to monitor and manage designated play areas,” says Mr. Muthiga. “A fence ensures that the kids remain restricted in a safe area.

To reduce the risk of injuries from falls, play equipment should have soft lining.

“Materials such as sand, rubber mulch, and wood chips are soft enough to absorb falls, unlike grass and the ground.

Surfacing mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like material are safe to use,” explains Mr. Muthiga.

The materials used are highly dependent on each activity. “There should be paved areas for different activities such as cycling,” In addition, Mr. Muthiga says, when designing  an outdoor play area, there should be a shaded area with benches where children can take a break..”

He says the  playground surface should be level and free of stagnant water. Rocks and tree stumps, as well as pieces of glass or metal, should also be removed.

Whether you are setting up a play area in a garden or your own backyard, ensure that the equipment you get is right for your kid’s age. “Younger children should not play with equipment designed for older kids and vice versa. If you have kids of all ages, it is important to get equipment for children of different ages,” states Mr. Muthiga.

“All activities should be spaced out, as some kids might want to take a break and watch their friends play. Keep a distance between equipment to ensure that kids never get trapped in between them,” he adds.

MAINTENANCE AND INSPECTION

Mr Muthiga says playground equipment should be  well maintained.

“Home playground should be well maintained. “Broken equipment should be repaired or replaced.

All bolts and nuts should be well oiled and tightened to ensure that there are no accidents. Metal equipment should also be repainted to ensure that it does not rust,” he says.

In addition, the grass should be kept short to ensure that it does not harbour harmful creatures.

Like any other structure, design is crucial in a play area.

“Besides installations, it is important to have an area where care givers can take a break from the children while still being able to watch over them activities. Bathrooms, eating areas, storage and administrative areas are also important,” Mr Muthiga says.

“Security and provision constant supervision are also important aspects to consider,” he says.