Outdoor Safety Tips for Kids

Family Hiking

TGSG Note: I am happy to have the fine folks at Play Outdoors guest blog this week. As BIG outdoor enthusiasts, they know a thing or two about fun in the sun and safety for the entire family! Now, get ready to hit the ground running with these tips to make your outdoor adventures as safe as they are fun!

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

Spring is the time for bike rides, hikes, camping, trips to the lake and all sorts of other fun outdoor activities! Experiencing nature is an important part of life. Both kids and adults should take the time to play outside, especially once the weather turns nice! It is both necessary and fun for families to enjoy the outdoors and participate in outdoor activities together.

This spring, plan to get outside with your kids as often as you can. Have a family picnic at the lake — grab a blanket, pack a picnic basket and spend the day splashing in the water and playing tag! Hiking in the woods is another fun family activity; sing a song or point out different animals and insects along the way. Bike riding around the neighborhood, to the local park or to and from school is always fun; be sure to wear helmets and look both ways before crossing the road!

Getting outside with the family is fun, but kids outdoor safety is an important factor not to be overlooked when planning an outdoor adventure.

Safety Tips For Playing Outdoors This Spring & Summer:

1. Be aware of the sun when outdoors by dressing your kids in a sun hat, sunglasses and always wear sunscreen!

2. Always have children wear life jackets or PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) when playing in or near any body of water.

3. Protect little heads when riding bikes! It is important for little ones (and parents, too!) to always wear a bike helmet. Whether it’s a ride around the block or a long mountain bike trip, don’t leave without wearing a protective helmet.


4. Stay hydrated! It is important to carry lots of water and healthy snacks when playing outside. No matter how long the adventure, pack a water bottle, hydration pack and sack full of nutritious, energy-filled goodies.

5. Put your best foot forward. Walking on the trail, running in the sand on a public beach or walking around the neighborhood park requires activity-appropriate footwear. Pack the sturdy walking shoes for trek in the woods. Water sandals are great for trips to the beach or pool!

6. Always carry a complete first aid kit. Keep a kit on hand with bandages, antiseptic, hand sanitizer, bug spray, and allergy medication (you never know when a little one will develop allergies!).

Big adventures always require a bit more planning, but don’t be daunted. With these quick tips, you are ready for your time in the sun.

Free-Range Kids: Readers Weigh-In

Photo via Amazon.com

Photo via Amazon.com

A few weeks ago, I ran a post  on Free-Range Kids. Coined by writer and mom, Lenore Skenazy, the term Free-Range Kids refers to children that are allowed to move about their communities independently — walking to  school, friends’  houses, or the park — much as most of us did as children. Obviously, we are not talking about 4 year-olds, but children old enough to understand boundaries and learn simple precautions, etc.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to read the post, which discusses the concept of perceived versus real risks. Also, I encourage you to follow Lenore’s work on the subject. It’s an important topic, and one that will make you think, and perhaps challenge some of your notions on the subject. Agree or disagree, Lenore’s work will give you pause, which is always good in my book.

Obviously, the amount of freedom or free-range to roam a child has will impact their play, their perceptions of their community, as well as their development. In a follow-up poll, I asked TGSG readers to weigh-in on two simple questions related to Free-Range Kids and the results are in. Below are the top three answers to each of  the questions:

  1. Do you let your children play outside unattended?
  • 32% said Yes;
  • 21% said Yes, but only in the backyard; and
  • In a tie — 10% said Yes, but only with a group of friends and 10% said No.

2.  What is the PRIMARY reason you do not let your child play outside unattended?

  • 44% said Child’s age (too young);
  • 24% said No reason, they let their children play outdoors unattended; and
  • 19% said Fear of stranger danger.

Actually, I was surprised and encouraged by the numbers, with over 50% of  respondents’ kids being allowed to have independent time outdoors — even if it is in the backyard, it’s a positive step. Child-directed, independent play is key in developing a sense of self, the ability to assess risk and test boundaries, decision making, and a variety of other skills. Trusting your child and modeling a sense of comfort with your neighborhood and community — and for that matter, society at large — will help your child grow into a confident adult. I am not suggesting that we live in a Utopia, where there is no reason for concern or proper precautions. However, I am suggesting that we be aware of real versus perceived dangers, as well as the real danger of raising a generation steeped in fear.

Of course, the level of independence you feel comfortable with will depend upon the age of your child and the area where you live. I would love to discuss strategies here — things we can put in place in neighborhoods and communities that would help parents feel safe, as well as tips to share with kids about time on own or time with friends without we adults hovering around. We want them to feel comfortable and safe, too — not just the grown-ups. I invite you to leave comments and ideas, and in the coming weeks, I will put together a post with the top tips and suggestions.

If your interested in reading more on the topic, there is a great article by David Derbyshire, How Children Lost Their Right to Roam in Four Generations. As with any issue, we can’t just raise awareness. For things to change we have to educate, inform, and take steps — move thoughts into action.

We can’t just say we want to restore childhood, but we have to actively move in that direction. Make changes in our daily lives, our schools, our communities, and society at large. I’m all in. How about you?

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

Planning Kid-Friendly Cities

City Planning Guru, George Osner

City Planning Guru, George Osner

TGSG Note: Recently, I wrote about urban planning as one of the key  barriers to today’s children spending time outdoors. I am so excited to have City Planner, George Osner guest post today at TGSG. An expert in his field — as well as a father and grandfather — I can’t think of anyone better to discuss this issue. Important information for us all to learn more about.   See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

City planning? Why should I care about that? Isn’t that just something bureaucrats and politicians do?

If you care about kids — and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t, you should care about how your town or city is planned and where it is headed in the future.  The way your city is laid out has a big impact on kids, some obvious, some not so obvious.

An obvious one is an adequate amount of parks and other open space that is easily accessible.  After all, TGSG is all about playing outside, right? Getting an adequate amount of land for parks is a constant battle in growing areas.  Kids need outdoor spaces, and not just their own backyards (and many don’t have backyards).  Imaginative, unstructured play has been shown to be critical to social and mental development of children. Outdoor, natural environments are crucial to reducing stress levels for children and adults.  Parks, greenways, trails, natural areas along waterways, these all are needed for a humane, kid-friendly environment. And adult-friendly, too!

Public open space is a critical element to any city and is especially critical to kids. These spaces are the places where kids meet informally and groups/friends coalesce.  (Private open space—aka vacant lots—played a big role in my childhood as well).

The modern city is designed with cars, not people (and certainly not kids) at the top of the pyramid.  We have tried (unsuccessfully) to create a model where cars can be used to zip us everywhere with no waiting, and at the same time to insulate ourselves from the effects of that zipping.  Thus the typical subdivision with as many cul-de-sacs crammed in as possible.  This has huge downsides for kids.  It means that every trip requires a car—even to visit that friend who lives over the fence in back—he or she may be next to you, but you have to negotiate a half-mile of streets to get from one cul-de-sac  to the other.  And while the cul-de-sac has little traffic, the “collector” streets are full of fast traffic, and the arterial streets are even worse—all the traffic is concentrated on a few streets, making them a place where no one cares—or dares to walk or take their bicycle. A walk to the park or to school becomes a scary trip that most parents don’t want their child attempting. This “must drive to everything” design is very destructive. It contributes to the immobilizing fear/security syndrome that we see depriving our kids of their childhood.  And furthermore, it is at the core of the epidemic of childhood (and adult for that matter) obesity and juvenile diabetes.

Connectivity is a planning buzzword that you should know. A city design that has less cul-de-sacs and more grid streets has some great benefits.  The traffic on any one connecting street becomes less, so that cars and walkers/cyclists can coexist.  Sometimes this is married with “traffic-calming” techniques—roundabouts, narrow streets, and other measures to keep vehicle speed down.  An area with high connectivity becomes walkable — families can visit the neighbors, walk to the park,  and kids can walk to school.  In a well designed neighborhood with a fine-grained mixture of uses (mixing land uses like retail and housing at the neighborhood/project level), even the kinds of shopping that are done on a daily basis are within a walking radius.

Great urban planning design incorporates connectivity principles, adequate and accessible well-designed open space, a fine-grained mixture of uses, and sufficient density to enhance both walkability and the availability of non-auto modes of travel, like mass transit. These principles have the added benefit of significantly reducing energy use and greenhouse gas generation — huge issues that will affect our kids and grandkids in significant and not yet well-understood ways.

So what can you do with this information?  City governments are highly responsive to their constituents.  Get organized.  Follow your city’s planning commission and city council actions.  Join a group promoting good planning for your community.  Attend meetings and support the good/oppose the bad. Insist that plans for your community incorporate connectivity, walkabilty, and mixed use principles, and that project approvals carry these principles out.

You can make a difference to your community, and those individual improvements add up to make a difference to the world!

Guest Blogger Bio: George Osner (AICP) has been a planner for 33 years.  His goal as a planner is and has always been to make the future a better place for the coming generations.  An avid cyclist, George is the a father of four and grandfather of  five. He lives in California with his partner and cat, Freddie Mac.

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